Monday, June 14, 2010

21. Us and Ourselves

We are the far way
across a wide ocean and thirty-three years
from our youth. To remember who
we were is an impossibility, but we know we
were beautiful in a way we are not now,
half a century into this single chance
to be someone maybe our children
or their children will remember decades
from now. A life is a sequence of events
occurring so close together they seem
only one thing, inviolable, but we are
fragmented, and those of us who have lived
too many places can feel the fractures
between the parts of a life. I can measure
time by when my family moved
to a new country and when we left. I know
this to the month. If you remember,
we were together as a body of people in
high school for only a single year, September
to May, and then we scattered back
over the craggy face of Africa,
and my family went home to a country
we were from and a place we had never
been to before.

We are halfway through the century now,
not the one that has just begun but
the one life we are trying to live through.
Fifty seems a good number, round
with a bit of fat in it, appropriate for us.
A life is never what we intend it to be.
It could never be that: the simple act
of hoping for a certain life makes
that life impossible. And the world is
too complicated to afford us the simple
pleasure of seeing the life we’ve imagined
come to be, and the lives we’ve never
tried to realize may be the best lives
we could ever live. I look back on my life
and see all the time I wasted not doing
what I wanted to do, not writing, not
creating, not teaching my body and mind
how to make something I wanted desperately
to make, but I learned other skills, even
without meaning to. Life works like that.
Some things are replacements for some
things else, even if nothing intended them
to be, even if we don’t want them to be.

Just outside this window to my left,
the Genesee River flows north through
darkness, over the High Falls, to Lake
Ontario. In the daylight, it is a river
of thick mud green, but at night it is
black, and it flows north, as so few
rivers do. The Genesee is a surprise,
never doing what we expect it to do.
It flows north, it isn’t navigable
through to Lake Ontario, and south
of here it forms a cross-
roads with a fragment of the Erie
Canal, that great feat of engineering
that allowed New York to be
the Empire State for a century.

Because we don’t know when
we will die, our lives seem without
boundary or end, but we know they
are short. Even one hundred years
is a short time for someone with
desires. I don’t think I have that
time, even though two weeks ago
I was exactly half the age of my
grandmother at her death. She died
at age 100 years and twelve days,
and I wonder if she wondered,
on the day she turned 50 years and
six days old if she had made it
through just half her life and that
amazing adventures still existed.
We didn’t know to ask her
because she was dead before we
knew how old she was when
she died. I won’t have her life,
nothing of the length of it, but
neither did she have my urge
to create something in this life,
an urge beyond the furtive need
to spread one’s seed, to ensure
immortality by the infinite
continuation, ever and ever more
diluted, of one’s DNA through
untellable generations of
descendants. The things we
make with our hands and our
minds are representations of
ourselves as we are, as we
want to be. They allow us
the illusion of life, even after
life has passed by.

So long it has been now since
we were part of a small band of
people on a bit of land reaching
into the Mediterranean and
going by the name Tangier that
we cannot recognize ourselves
any longer, that we cannot tell
us from ourselves, and if we could
we wouldn’t know who to tell.

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